The political system in Nazi Germany- Booklet 2

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How was decision Making done?

Descison making was done invidually in the Third Reich rather than Collectively. 

The Nazi party was not a tight, well intergrated group, but a movement which was often paralysed by dissensions and distrust.- Leaders more intent on buliding up their own power.

Administradtion in the Third Reich was a Chaotic system of rivalrly and overlapping areas of responsibility. 

  • Proposal submitted by individual ministers.
  • Head of chancellery distributes a draft of proposal to other ministers invidually for comments. 
  • Head of chancellery gives new version of proposal to Hitler.
  • The propsal becomes law after it is sighned by Hitler and passed as a decree. 
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The Development of Nazi Policy

Hitler did not play a prominent part in day to day government.  (Hated paperwork so delegated to his subordinates.)

He disliked the mental effort it took to come to a descion and prefered to let events take their course rather than intervene. 

'a remote umpire handing down descions from high' when his subordinates could not agree amongst themselves.

Development of Nazi policy came from the Fuhrer's will (overall vison and guidelines for action by the party)..

  • National revival
  • all powerful state
  • volksgemeinschaft
  • Destruction of internal enemies 
  • Expansionism
  • Crusade againsit Bolshevism.
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Hitler's Will

The key to power for Nazi officals was access to Hitler , both to get his approval and to show others they had the ear of the Fuhrer. 

The Fuhrer's will was interpretated by ambitous individuals struggling for power and antipating hitlers wishes. 

How was Nazi policy developed?

  • by these ambitous individuals who competed with other individuals to be seen as implmenting Hitler's wishes and thus the Fuhrers will. 

Social Darwinism= where the most ambitous and those who were seen to be the most successful in implmmenting Hitlers wishes benifitted. 

This structure did lead to Cumlative Radicalisation. eg- the Euthansia programe.

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Hitler as a dictator and the Hitler Myth

Was Hitler a Strong Leader who made all Major decisions OR a Weak Leader who had Little Inovolment and allowed others to decide and unwilling make decisions. 

Current Consensus put forward by Kershaw is..

  • Hilter is the Key activator
  • Policy reflects overall vison
  • No effective oppisition to his will.
  • Hilter is the Mobiliser, legitimator of policies but does not specifically initate many policies.

Hitler Myth= bulit up a form of charimatic leadership which was helped by successful polices and a powerful propaganda machine (personality cult). 

  • Personified the nation and stood aloof from slefish interests and understood the German People. 
  • Was the architect of Germanys economic miricle and the representive of popular justice.
  • Defended Germany againsit its enemies (jews, bolsheviks, corrupt SA, Extremists)
  • was reponsible for all major successes of governement.
  • was the rebulider of Germany's streghts 
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The Reichstag and the Cabinet

The Reichstag

Under the Enabling Act the Reichstag had granted Legisative powers to Hitler and only 7 more laws were passed by the Reichstag. (every 4 years it renewed the enabling act)

  • In November, a Nazi list of candiates was approved in a virtual plebiscite.
  • This was one of a series of votes desgined to show the popularity of the regime.
  • The Reichstag rarely met  and when it did it was mainly used as propaganda to applaud the speeches of Nazi Leaders. 


The Cabinet was orginally retained but lost its purpose (intially only contained 3 Nazis) and in the late 1930s it rarely met.

  • 1933 it met 72 times- 1937 it only met 7 times- 1939 it did not meet at all.

Hitler did not belive in an ordely system of government. Descions tended to be made on an individual basis, depending who had access to the Fuhrer. 

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Reich Chancellery and Local Government

Reich Chancellery

This was the central administrive body. Its role was was greatly expanded following the enabling act as most laws were drawn up by its officals.

  • it was responsible for coordinating the responses of deparments of new legislation
  • the chancellery dealt with the vast increse in paperwork, suchas letters written to Hitler, and issuses to government decress.

Lammers the Head of Chancellery had a major impact on the flow of information to and from Hitler and thus on his polices.

Local Government

Despite Hitler's promise not to abolish elected state governments (in the Lander), they were taken over by Centrally appointed officals.

State  governments became agents of the central government.

Real power was exersised by the Reich Governor (post held by local Gauleiter).

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Civil Service

Most civil servants traditionally had been conservative and anti-parlimentary- they had welcomed presidental governements from 1930 and were comitted to serving the state.

They transeferred fairly happily to the Third Reich, and remained throughout the regime.

  • fewer than 5% were purged as a result of the 'Law for the restoration of professtional Civil service' (1933).
  • They gradually became more Nazi, partly as Nazis were apponited, but mainly exsisting burecrts joined the party.
  • This became complusary in 1939 as did wearing uniforms.

By late 1930s, the civil service was losing its influence as increasing use was made of its speical agencies which bypassed the ministries and their civil servants.

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Law courts and the Legal System

Franz Gurtner, the non-Nazi justice minister from 1933 to 1941. He supported an authoritarian state, but still one that operated on a system of law.

  • He wanted to keep the police and the judiciary sepearate.
  • Most lawyers and judges thought that working with the regime was the best way of maintaing their postion and controlling the more extreme features of the regime.

However as Hiden pointed out "In embarking on self coordination in order to preserve the principles of law, the judiciary effectively working in favour of the regime".

Nazi ideas did penetrate the system. Gurtner was unable to prevent ordinary courts losing power to the SS and the Gestapo.

  • the established courts still remained, but they adapted to a new system.

Some judges defied the governments wishes in the verdicts, so they were bypassed with the new Peoples court and special court created in March 1933.

  • Lawyers were coordinated into the German lawyer's front. (oct 1933 10,000 lawyers gave the Nazi salute).
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Legal system 2

Under the new penal code, judges were to act 'according to popular feeling'.

From 1936, the egale and swastika had to be worn on judges robes. Actions outside the law were increasing by the nazi party.

Hitler did not replace the exsisting legal code with a new one.

  • New laws reflecting the Nazis politcal views were passed and judges were expected to interpret all laws according to Nazi values.

The interior minister Wilhelm Frick summed up the Nazi view of the law "Everything which is useful for the nation is lawful; everything which harms it is unlawful".

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The Foregin Office

The foregin office was a branch of the state which during the 1930s remained largerly untouched.

Bruning's foreign minister Konstantin von Neurath remained until 1938.

Foregin policy was increasinly conducted outside the foregien ministry by individual Nazis, for example...

  • Goering, Goebbels and Ribbentrop- and by special missons.

In 1938, changes did take place with Nazi Joachim Von Ribbentrop replacing Neurath as foregin minister.

Officals more sympathic to the Nazi policy were promoted.

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The Army

Hilter treated the Army very wearily. Following the night of the Long Knives (June 1934) they took an oath of loyalty to him.

Despite this Hitler realised that if they felt threathened they had potential to pose pontential danger to the regime.

  • left the structure largelry untouched until 1938, although he did increase in size.
  • the army generally cooperated, since most of the generals shared Hitlers anti-bolshevism, anti-liberalism, strong nationism and a esire to restore Germany's military might.
  • Hitler said the Nazi party and the army were the two pillars holding up the state.

Military leaders issued internal decrees adjusting to Nazism, for eample..

  • revising the army's trainig guidelines to reflect a Nazi approach.
  • also benifited from rearmerment, with conscription the army increased twentey times between 1933 and 1939.
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The Nature of Nazi Totalitarianism

Totalitarianism as a political concept implies that all aspects of life within the state are controlled by either an indiviual or polical party/group.

Which areas of public life did the Nazis have total control?

  • All other polictcal parties had been banned.
  • Press was censored.
  • Meetings were restricted.
  • Free trade unions were banned.
  • Strikes were illegal.
  • School syllabuses were brought under state control.
  • The civil service was purged of Jews and politcal opponants.
  • Art and cultulre was under strict control.
  • The party launched an economic policy desgined to make Germany self suffient. State controls were introduced.
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Which areas of life remained outside of Nazi contr

  • In general big business did continue to operate with a considerable measure of independance. The reality was it was bound to the state by governmennt contracts.
  • Although there were measure to try and coordinate the churches, the measure of success was not total.
  • The social structure remained largerly intact. Social classes continued to exist and the pre-war elite remained, if not in power, they certainly continued in exsistence.
  • The private ownership of land and business was allowed, unless the owners were Jewish. Aryan ownership was perfectly accectable.
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Although the Nazis exerted considerable control over the lives of the people, it would be inaccurate to describe the political structure as a classic totalitarian model.

In some ways it appears the Nazi party had to compete- rather aggressively- with other institutions and organisations.

The state did influence people's lives very considerably and it must be said that the use of fear and terror by the SS and the Gestapo, did create a level of acquiescene among the population.

However, there was oppistion to the regime. In comparison to the soviet union under control of the Bolsheviks..

  • class system had been abolished, ther was no private ownership of land or capital, all political parties were banned, all dissent was outlawed, amd culture and the media were tightly controlled by the state.
  • Russian orthodox christianity was persecuted- the state was secular.
  • Economic control over the state was total.
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Key interpretaions of the Nazi politcal system

Hilter as a Dictator

  • Hitler was a strong leader who made all the descions (traditional)
  • Hitler was a weak dictator- unwilling to make descions , allows others to make descions and little involment in Govt (reviosnist)
  • Hitler was a key activator, policy reflects Hitler's overall visons (fuhrers will), no effective oppsition, legitimator of polices but does not initiate many polices (current consensus)

Hitler's Decision Making

  • Hitler is the direct initator of action.
  • Hitler controls policy
  • Hitler inspires policy
  • Hitler responds to other peoples proposals and actions
  • Hilter opts out of a clear decison

Hitler as a leader

  • Hitler Myth (inspired by Nazi propaganda)
  • Hitler was lazy and disliked paperwork etc.
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